Co-founder of Ratehub Inc. and CEO of Ratehub.ca.
If you’ve graduated in the past decade, you probably remember the nerve-racking process of choosing your career path. Your first foray into the job market can feel like a game of chess, where every move either brings you closer to your ambitions or sets you back.
As startups increase in popularity in major cities across Canada, they’re becoming a new, popular option for new graduates. But are they a smart career move? Last week, an article by Bram Belzberg argued that millennials who choose to join startups are “[treating] their careers like lottery tickets,” but I beg to differ.
If you’re a millennial who has discounted startups as a starting point for your career, you’re missing out on some of the most rewarding job opportunities on the market today. Fortune favours the bold – a saying I found to be true when I left my management consulting job back in 2009 to co-found my startup, Ratehub Inc. Here’s why you should be bold by launching your career at a startup.
First, the skills developed at a startup are highly valuable for recent graduates. Early- stage startups often have very small teams and a lot of work to do, which allows younger team members to engage in high-level work early in their careers. One of Ratehub’s very early employees, Kurtis, started out as our office co-ordinator straight out of university. Unsure of where he wanted to focus his career, he developed a passion for product and analytics work. As we grew, we were able to give him more of this work and support him outside of work with coding courses and training, enabling him to grow to become Ratehub’s first product manager. Today, he leads product at Zoocasa, a tech-powered brokerage.
There’s no topping on-the-job learning or the opportunities that will be presented by the fast-paced growth of a startup. If you later want to transition to the corporate world, you can rest easy knowing that your startup experience is held in high regard. Established companies frequently tap startup founders and talent to lead technology, digital advertising and digital transformation projects and divisions.
In his article, Mr. Belzberg argues that startups don’t provide formal mentorship opportunities for young talent. I agree that mentorship can get dropped down the list of priorities at some startups when they’re finding their legs, but this becomes less true as the companies mature. It’s important to distinguish between early stage startups and scale-ups, which usually refers to companies with more than $5-million in revenue that have had multiyear growth rates on employee count and revenue. Scale-ups are better suited to create and implement formal mentorship programs to foster talent, as their scale requires more experienced managers and they have the revenue or funding to pay for more senior talent. But early stage startups are also uniquely positioned to provide millennials with the latitude to grow and experiment as one of just a handful of employees. In either scenario, mentorship is available to those who seek it.
Another common worry from young talent: the potential of a startup failing, and how that impacts their future job prospects. The anxiety of “hitching your wagon to the wrong horse” can make millennials wary of promising career opportunities. However, Canada’s strong startup ecosystem puts young people in a great position to find new roles even if the worst comes to pass. Cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Kitchener-Waterloo have close-knit tech communities supported by networks of industry experts. I’ve personally received handwritten recommendations from former startup heads vouching for the strong talent they’ve worked with that will soon be coming on the market. In the startup world, we have a solid community of people who support each other and care about each other’s success.
For millennials, one way to mitigate the risk of joining a startup is by doing your due diligence before signing on the dotted line. Be sure to do your research on the strength of the leadership team and its commitment to its employees. Asking the right questions early in the hiring process will have a big impact on whether you join the right company and get the right experience. Think of working at a startup as an investment in your career, and make sure you choose the right company for your goals.
Joining a startup allows you to set the pace and direction of your career growth. If you’re a tenacious, challenge-driven millennial looking to establish or pivot your career, Canada’s startups could be exactly what you’re looking for.
Alyssa Furtado is speaking at the 2018 Globe and Mail Small Business Summit, a one-day conference where Canada’s top entrepreneurs share strategies for success. Full lineup and early bird tickets available at tgam.ca/SBS18
Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.